Interns guide women entrepreneurs in Peru

Proyecto Salta internsThunderbird for Good, the school’s social outreach arm, sent a group of five student consultants to Peru for 12 weeks in summer 2011 through its Proyecto Salta program. The students worked one-on-one with 120 women micro-entrepreneurs for a total of 1,200 consulting hours in Spanish. Participants included Craig Brammer ’11, Marcela Cubas ’11, Jacquelyn Hunter ’12, Amanda Roberson ’12 and Emily Winans ’12. Following is a farewell blog post by one of the interns:

By Amanda Roberson ’12

Our Proyecto Salta internships culminated last week with a celebratory gathering of the women entrepreneurs we trained during our three months in Lima. We weren’t quite sure what to expect when planning this event, but we could not have been more pleased with the results.

About half of the 120 women came to the party, an amazing turnout considering their busy schedules and the long distances they had to travel across this massive city to get there. One memorable moment was seeing the group of women we worked with from Manchay, a remote community formed on a dusty mountainside, come walking in a proud pack down the sidewalk to the entrance of the event. They had shed their practical polar fleeces for high heels, suits, makeup and new hairstyles. Giddy after making the journey to San Isidro, they posed for multiple photo shoots before entering the building and many more once they were inside.

But perhaps the greatest highlight was hearing the women share their experiences with Proyecto Salta as they formed a circle and took turns introducing themselves. Although their businesses vary from small corner stores to costume shops to pharmacies, they share many things in common. They all find innovative ways to balance the demands of being mothers, wives and entrepreneurs. They all started with small businesses and have hopes of seeing them grow.

Without being prompted to do so, they explained how they are applying what they learned through their Proyecto Salta training in their businesses. The now infamous flujo de caja, or basic cash flow statement we taught them to manage their income and expenses, was a recurring theme. Many of them had never kept any type of accounting records, and they now view the flujo de caja as a powerful tool to gain control of their finances and ensure that their businesses are profitable.

The circle activity took on the feel of group therapy at times as the women talked about the lack of support they receive from family, friends and neighbors. Machismo is alive and well in this culture, they said, and many people do not want to see women entrepreneurs succeed. With the universal goal of changing this stigma, the women then began to network among themselves. We interns stood back, watched and smiled they wasted no time making strategic connections. Milka, a seamstress, is going to make specialty dresses for Tania, who owns a formal clothing store. Marizol, an accountant, is going to help Tina continue to manage her debt while she helps Maria to formalize the newest part of her shoe business. Haydee found out about opportunities to pursue her dream of learning to make silver artisan jewelry. These are just a few of the connections made as energy and empowerment resonated throughout the group.

After many hugs and kisses, a few tears and a frenzy of photos, we said goodbye to our empresarias. As I leave Peru, I know that I will not forget any of the 24 women with whom I worked. I will remember their faces, their stories, their struggles and their successes. They inspire me enormously, just as they inspire each other.

Read more posts by Amanda and other Proyecto Salta interns on the Thunderbird for Good Blog.

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